A Glossary of Linguistic/Literary Words You Don’t Need to Know

Scott Gardner

affective stylistics–

The idea that one cannot consume and respond to literature without having been influenced by previous responses to it. Not to be confused with stylized affectedness, which is someone’s effort to develop their own unique hyper-responses to surprising or shocking news: “Well, roll me in butter and hang me on a spit!”

bahuvrihi word–

A two-part synecdoche made of constituents of the thing it is describing. Examples: “She’s old money”; “Butterfingers!”; “Don’t be such a stuffed shirt!”; “Your boyfriend’s a lowlife”; “My boring linguistics teacher is basically just a walking bahuvrihi word.”

bathtub effect–

Remembering the beginnings and endings of words but not the mildews.


Language used in a particular way by an in-group, such that outsiders may look down both on the usage and the group. Spelling “cant” without an apostrophe in text messages is an example of cant.


An ancient argumentation process, with several parts: thesis (e.g., “photography is not an art”); antithesis (“yes it is, you nincompoop”); synthesis (“photography may at times reach the level of art, but your endless Facebook cat photos are a waste of my browser’s memory cache”); and finally prosthesis (“Wave that finger at me once more and you’ll have to pick your nose with a drumstick taped to your wrist!”).


When aspects of language acquisition reach a certain level and cease to progress any further; also, the look on a language learner’s face upon realizing they failed to understand a single word of what has just been said to them.


A word or phrase, such as “in my humble opinion”, used to indicate the speaker’s hesitation to commit fully to what they are saying. Abbreviated versions of these (e.g. “IMHO”) are called trimmed hedges.


What a speaker doesn’t say, but means anyway despite not having said it. This is like innuendo, but usually less naughty.

input hypothesis–

An assumption that meaningful input (language, money, a three and a six), processed under the right conditions, will achieve a favorable result (acquisition, a can of soda, two aces).

performative verb–

A verb that, in its utterance, performs the act it is describing, as in promise, swear, or declare. These can be difficult to distinguish from nonperformative verbs, the kind that don’t actually achieve anything: “I promise I’ll do my homework, Mom, after just one more game”; “Give me another chance, Baby, I swear I’ll make it up to you”; or “No sir, I have no fresh fruit or alcohol in my bag to declare.”

putative author–

A fictional author created by a real author. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr purported to be the autobiography of a cat, when in fact it was German storyteller E. T. A. Hoffman, a human, who wrote the book. (Note: The putative author concept does not apply to works such as, for example, Soseki Natsume’s I Am a Cat, in which Mr. Sneaze is merely narrating his adventures, or Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal, in which it is a human that is being fictionalized by a lower life form.)


A tautology.

universal grammar–

A hypothetical force of language that flows through the universe and all things in it. “It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together” (Noam Kenobi). Some attribute the power of UG to microscopic organisms inside us, called WEELADs (Wildly Elaborate Explanations for a Language Acquisition Device). Prehistoric apes were accidentally infected by these organisms millions of years ago when they discovered a giant black mp3 player left behind by vacationing extraterrestrials and started listening to the podcasts stored in it.